LONDON – Police have arrested a man in Northern Ireland in connection with the infamous bombing of two pubs in the English Midlands nearly half a century ago, they said on Wednesday, an attack whose memory stands as an emblem of deferred justice and lasting loss.
The bombs exploded within minutes of each other in Mulberry Bush and the city’s tavern, both in Birmingham, on November 21, 1974, killing 21 people. The identities of the bombers remain one of the most intricate mysteries of the era, whose bloodshed still marks the survivors.
The attacks broke through decades known as the “Problems”
Following the attacks in Birmingham, police accused six men of carrying out bombings that injured about 200 people. The men, who became known as the Birmingham Six, were imprisoned in 1975 but released in 1991 when their sentences were overturned. In 1994, police said there was insufficient evidence of further arrests.
In a statement Wednesday, West Midlands police said a 65-year-old man had been arrested under counter-terrorism laws at his home in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and that his home was being searched. The man has not been identified by name.
While the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, backed by the United States, established a political agreement to help end the “Problems,” memories of the violence continue and campaigns continue to demand explanations.
Such was the pressure from a group in Birmingham that the authorities reopened the 2016 investigation into the Birmingham attacks. The Justice for 21 group is still pushing for a wider public inquiry.
Last year, investigators found that the 21 victims had been killed illegally by the Irish Republican Army or IRA, the most powerful of groups seeking a united Ireland, but had not identified any suspects by name. The IRA did not take responsibility during the bombing.
Julie Humbleton, whose sister Maxine was killed in the attacks, called Wednesday’s arrest “the most monumental event” since the release of the Birmingham Six. “This is welcome news. This is shocking news. This is tangible progress, “she told the BBC.
But, like other campaign participants seeking a broader investigation, she said the arrest “in no way diminishes our desire for a full public investigation.”
“There are broader issues that need to be addressed and so much has gone wrong, such as why six men have been arrested for a crime they did not commit,” she said.
Paul Rowlands, whose father John Rowlands was killed in one of the blasts, called the arrest a “positive step”, but said it “does not diminish the fact that we need a public inquiry”.
The memory of those killed in 1974 is included in a montage of photographs that illustrate the capriciousness of the murder. The victims included electricians and postal workers, a market guard, several department store workers and factory and office workers, among others.
Such memories cement the “Problems” deep in the British political landscape. The release of the Birmingham Six – Paddy Hill, Gary Hunter, Johnny Walker, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McKilkney and Billy Power – is often cited by campaign participants as one of the most striking judicial errors in the “Problems”.
Mr Hill, one of the Birmingham Six, told the BBC in 2010: “The only thing for the British public – when they see injustice, they are not afraid to stand up and shout about it – and thank God. We were imprisoned just to satisfy and quell the public protest, and eventually the public protest brought us back. “
In recent months, as Britain has moved on to its final farewell to the European Union, the fate of Northern Ireland has become intertwined in London-Washington relations.
The British government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has drafted legislation that critics say will restore the border restrictions lifted under the Good Friday Agreement. But in Washington, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. warned Mr Johnson that the Good Friday agreement should not be compromised.
“We cannot allow the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland, to fall victim to Brexit,” Mr Biden wrote on Twitter in September. “Any trade deal between the United States and the United Kingdom must be conditional on compliance with the agreement and the prevention of the return of a hard border. Period. “